In our world filled with influencers today, it’s common to see them posing in coffee shops and other popular new Instagrammable spots. Usually, they don’t even need a professional photographer for decent shots of them at these locations.
However, if you were to see a photo of an influencer like the one below, not just any Insta boyfriend or mom or dad is going to cut it. You would need a professional photographer capable of doing underwater photography to start.
This is where someone like Cheah Kim Hup would come in.
A journey from land to sea
Cheah’s career in underwater photography actually started on land, where he was a nature guide based in the rainforests of Penang and Langkawi in 2014.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching ocean documentaries and been involved in a few conservation activities,” Cheah told Vulcan Post. Some of these conservation experiences included working with sea turtles, dolphins, dusky leaf monkeys, etc.
One thing led to another, and soon enough he applied for a scuba diving license in 2017. His love for the underwater world only grew from there, to the point that he quit his job and traveled to Sabah in early 2018 and joined Sipadan. Kapalai Dive Resort to do underwater videography for its resort guests.
Now, it’s no surprise that equipment for underwater videography doesn’t come cheap. Cheah revealed that all DSLR equipment with underwater housing costs over RM40K.
Dictionary time: The Underwater Housing is a camera case for your popular topside camera, but which allows full control of the camera while diving, is waterproof and pressure resistant, and in many cases as ergonomic as to use your camera without it.
Fortunately, the resort covered the costs of the equipment and provided him with training in underwater videography, which took about 3 months before he could take clients for them.
Customers also have burdens to bear for a shoot
The diving equipment alone weighs between 15 and 20 kg, which is very heavy for beginners who make up the majority of its customers.
Cheah himself has to carry an additional 5-10 kg of weight with him thanks to the camera equipment, and he also sometimes assists guests who are not used to the weight of their own diving equipment.
The amount of additional equipment he has to carry also depends on the diving situation. In bad weather, poor visibility, or if he’s going for a night dive or needs to go deeper into the water, he’ll need to attach more lights to his gear to ensure a clearer shot.
For each dive, Cheah will actually have an instructor with him and the clients if they are newbies, but if the clients themselves are licensed divers, a buddy system can be used (when more than one licensed client is present). ).
For licensed divers, it only needs to teach them how to land, which includes positioning their diving fins, controlling their buoyancy, etc. But for beginners, that’s a whole different story.
Manage anxious customers
“Beginners panic easily and their bodies stiffen up because they are afraid of water. When that happens, we usually guide them to breathe slowly and help them practice some basic safety skills before diving deeper, ”he explained.
“I will also try to distract them from their fear by encouraging them to focus on the beauty of their underwater environment. “
There are cases where Cheah actually has to allay his anxiety and constantly practice these safety skills with his clients for hours on end, due to the fear of diving some of them.
Sometimes clients end up giving up diving altogether, and in these cases, Cheah convinces them to pursue a freediving session instead.
More Chinese than local customers
Even though Cheah works with local influencers, he is more popular among Chinese tourists and influencers as he actively posts on Douyin (Chinese TikTok, for those unfamiliar with it).
“I have 80.4,000 subscribers on my Douyin, and that’s actually how these Chinese tourists and influencers got to know me and approached me to work with them for their underwater shoots during their travels. “, he explained.
“Usually, before going underwater, I will discuss with them what kind of angles they like and dislike and do my best to meet their expectations while diving. But in the end, the result really depends on their movements and pose which, with practice, gets closer to what they want.
Besides influencers, Cheah has also collaborated with big brands like WeChat China, PADI China, Insta360 China and even Douyin China themselves. These big-brand collaborations typically involve underwater product reviews, as it did for the Sublue Underwater Scooter and Insta360 Camera.
Normally the service is a 2 dive shoot, and if you work with him at the resort you are charged RM 900 for 1-2 people and RM 250 per person if it’s more than 4 people. But if you work with him outside of the resort, it costs around RM600-1,000 for 1-2 people, depending on the location. Cheah told Vulcan Post that he has already worked with more than 500 clients since he started.
But of course, the pandemic changed things for him. Cheah is unable to accept any client work as the tourism industry has been hit hard and the majority of its Chinese clients are now absent.
Therefore, he is back on earth in his hometown, Sungai Petani, Kedah, working as a freelance videographer. He’s taking this break in his underwater career to focus on improving skills in product and corporate filming, but he can’t wait to get back into the water when it’s safer.
- You can read more about Cheah Kim Hup here.
- You can read more about other photographers we have covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Cheah Kim Hup
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